ST. JOHNSBURY — It’s the Athenaeum’s 150th birthday on Saturday, but COVID 19 has crashed the party.

Plans to have a series of in-person gatherings leading up to a celebration on Saturday were altered because the pandemic failed to relent and in fact came on stronger in the fall through the Delta variant. Saturday marks 150 years to the day that Horace Fairbanks opened the town’s first public library.

The day will not go by entirely without fanfare. Staff at the Athenaeum are inviting the public to an outdoor recognition of the milestone anniversary any time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday. Canopies will be set up and birthday cupcakes will be served. Free swag bags will be given to adults and children.

“We’re saying ‘Hi, how are you? Here’s a cupcake. Here’s a swag bag, and we’re going to have events in the spring,’” said Athenaeum Director Bob Joly. “It’s a way to say something to some people.” In the bag will be a list of the events the Athenaeum was going to do leading up to the anniversary with the expectation that the events will happen as soon as it’s safe to gather.

“We started planning this years ago and then when COVID hit we decided to scale back,” said Scott Davis, development director at St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, “and then COVID came roaring back with the Delta variant.”

The outdoor gathering in which people can come and go will give people a chance to stop by and wish a happy birthday. Staff will be on hand to greet those people who attend. The Athenaeum will be open as it is every Monday through Saturday. Masks must be worn to enter.

Joly said he recognizes that entertainment events are happening in the area with vaccine or proof of negative virus tests to gain admission, but the kind of celebrations to mark the Athenaeum at 150 can’t happen that way.

“Events for this place are really going to be like parties … get together, have some drinks, have some food. Take your masks off and have a good time,” said Joly.

The plan was to start the celebrations in October by featuring NEK authors. Rachel Hadas, Reeve Lindbergh, Beth Kanell and Don Bredes were going to read selections of their works. Selections from late authors Galway Kinnell and Howard Frank Mosher were also going to be read. These readings will now be recorded and made available online next month.

These originally live readings were going to be followed by an exhibit and celebration of the Janus Press, based in Newark, with guest Claire Van Vliet, and an illustrated lecture on the painter Williams Hart by Dr. Gary L. Stiles. Three of Hart’s paintings are part of the Athenaeum’s art collection.

Davis said the plan is to hold the Janus Press celebration and the lecture by Dr. Stiles live in 2022 when it’s safe to gather.

The final event that was planned was set to happen on Nov. 27. It was to be an open house with food and beverages, followed by the presentation “From the Parlor to the Polling Place” by singer and researcher Linda Radtke, accompanied by Cameron Steinmetz on piano.

Joly said the Athenaeum hopes to hold that event in 2022 as well.

The Athenaeum has support for its 150th-anniversary celebrations from sponsors Passumpsic Bank, Community Financial Services Group, Autosaver Group and Community National Bank.

People are encouraged to send a birthday card to the Athenaeum at: St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, 1171 Main Street, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819

Well-wishers are also encouraged to sign a giant birthday card at the Athenaeum and to send a photo or short video with a birthday message to show on the Athenaeum or its social media space. Email Davis at sdavis@stjathenaeum.org.

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